Women Entrepreneurs in Cleantech Discuss Overcoming Gender Barriers

TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University
March 1, 2016

By Mark Golden

Women in tech­nol­ogy face a gen­der gap much wider than that faced by women in other U.S. sec­tors, and that is no dif­fer­ent for female entre­pre­neurs in sus­tain­able technology.

While the sit­u­a­tion has improved some­what in the past cou­ple decades, there is a long way to go, accord­ing to par­tic­i­pants in the Women Entre­pre­neurs in Sus­tain­abil­ity sem­i­nar orga­nized by the TomKat Cen­ter for Sus­tain­able Energy. Five female inven­tors and a pio­neer­ing investor shared their insights for over­com­ing the bar­ri­ers, espe­cially given that find­ing investors has been chal­leng­ing for all clean­tech entre­pre­neurs the past few years.

“This indus­try doesn’t look like Amer­ica in terms of diver­sity, but you don’t solve a prob­lem until you own it and turn a light on it,” said keynote speaker Nancy Pfund, man­ag­ing part­ner of ven­ture cap­i­tal fund DBL Partners.

Diverse ven­ture fund teams attract a diverse group of star­tups, said Pfund, and women-​​led, venture-​​backed com­pa­nies have higher rev­enues than those oper­ated by men. Of nine star­tups recently backed by DBL, six are run by women entre­pre­neurs, she said.

Still, accord­ing to one 2012 esti­mate, female-​​led ven­tures start with about an eighth of the fund­ing of male-​​owned ven­tures, noted Stacey Bent, direc­tor of the TomKat Cen­ter. Indi­vid­ual investors, foun­da­tions, non-​​profit orga­ni­za­tions and the gov­ern­ment can offer a more level play­ing field. They are often com­mit­ted to diver­sity as well as sus­tain­abil­ity and the finan­cial suc­cess of the ven­tures they support.

Eight of the 24 Stan­ford star­tups backed by the TomKat Center’s Inno­va­tion Trans­fer Pro­gram have at least one woman on the found­ing team. And, of the 68 stu­dents who have gone through the pro­gram to date about 25 per­cent are women.

To read the full arti­cle, visit TomKat Cen­ter for Sus­tain­able Energy at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity.